Friday, March 21, 2014

The West India company striving to be a bit more humane than the East India Company (the 18th c. avatar, not the 21st c. shop owned by Sanjiv Mehta).

Taymoor Soomro recounts the bad old days in the Dawn
The East India Company was to its generation, what Amazon will likely be to the next: monstrous, semi-sovereign, monopolistic, life-styling. It was a state-backed, limited liability company incorporated in the seventeenth century to explore the world and trade for the British. Through commerce and political machination, it acquired increasing control over India and eventually colonised the subcontinent before it was absorbed into the British administration.  

Over its almost three century (first) life, it grew to rule one-fifth of the world’s population, command a standing army of 200,000 men and control half the world’s trade. It was simply “the Company”.

The Company stood for power, adventure, discovery, luxury and class. It did not bring civilisation to the subcontinent. The Mughals of the 17th and 18th centuries were far more sophisticated than the British in many ways. But it brought tea and spices to the West and cheap cloth — calico, gingham, chintz, seersucker and taffeta for example — a clean underwear revolution. Like all corporates, its greatest strength and failing was its pure profit motive. In an age with little regulation and competition, that absolute lack of morality harnessed to extraordinary power generated massive profit and massive harm.  

The Company played a role in the Bengal Famine of 1770 in which 10 million died, the Boston Tea Party in 1773, the Anglo-Chinese Opium Wars from 1839 to 1842 and 1856 to 1860 and the War of Independence 1857, also known as mutiny; and destroyed local textile and shipbuilding industries. It was finally dissolved in 1874 because of its failures in administration. The grotesque poverty of the subcontinent today is in part a product of its rule.

So its revival comes as something of a surprise. Even more so, given that the resuscitator who has pressed his warm breath between its blue lips is an Indian. Sanjiv Mehta — a businessman with a diverse background in gemology and tea trading — bought the rights to use the East India Company name in 2005.

There are clearly incentives. The East India Company has a name and reputation that provide an obvious platform for a luxury goods retailer. Even more so because we seem to remember the good and none of the bad. It is, in British history, the original bridge to the exotic Orient, bringing tea and pepper and cloves and muslin to the Empire. And in subcontinental history, the Company heralded the British Raj — and brought order to India in a way that none have since. Its recent revival is an exercise in monetising those elements of orientalism and nostalgia and as such its investment appears to be purely in its branding.

Don’t get me wrong — if, on a hungry afternoon, at the back of a cupboard, I chanced upon a dusty jar of its Real Raspberries Enrobed in Chocolate, I’d likely enjoy them notwithstanding my discomfort with their politics and semantics.

But in the end the East India Company’s revival leaves me more than anything else with an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Its gruesome legacy, its orientalism, its poor product selection make this endeavor unwise. In its second incarnation, the Company retains its relentless thirst for profit but little else.  

And to revive a grand Empire builder as a gift shop — well, it’s like Pol Pot as a Cabbage Patch Kid: embarrassingly distasteful … but perhaps appropriately degrading. If this is an act of revenge, it’s masterful.

IT major Tata Consultancy Services said it has been named as the top employer in Europe for the second consecutive year by the Top Employers Institute.

The company was recognised as an exceptional performer across six core human resources areas - primary conditions, secondary benefits, working conditions, training, career development and company culture.

"We are delighted to have been rated as the foremost employer across Europe for the second consecutive year and we look forward to building on this success as we continue to grow and develop our talent base across the UK and Continental Europe," TCS Executive Vice President and Global Head, Human Resources Ajoy Mukherjee said.

Previously known as the CRF Institute, The Top Employers Institute is an independent organisation that identifies top performers in the field of Human Resources worldwide. The Top Employer certification is based on independent research conducted by the institute and audited by Grant Thornton.


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